Game also called Five in a Row / SAT 4-30-16 / Herbal stress reliever from Polynesia / Bone-boring tool / Alternators in some combustion engines / Royal name in ancient Egypt / Woodworker's device informally / City across border from Eilat

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Constructor: Mark Diehl

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: GO BANG (48A: Game also called Fine in a Row) —
Gomoku is an abstract strategy board game. Also called Gobang or Five in a Row, it is traditionally played with Go pieces (black and white stones) on a go board with 19x19 (15x15) intersections; however, because once placed, pieces are not moved or removed from the board; gomoku may also be played as a paper and pencil game. This game is known in several countries under different names. // Black plays first if white did not just win, and players alternate in placing a stone of their color on an empty intersection. The winner is the first player to get an unbroken row of five stones horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. (wikipedia)
• • •

What was I saying about wanting the puzzles to have teeth? Yikes. This was the hardest puzzle I've done all year, or close to it. Mostly it was just a tough Saturday, but down south things got slightly hairy in the SW (SLAPJACK / JOCKO!?!) and then very, very hairy in the SE. Hirsute, even. Names and technical terms just did me in, or almost did. Let's back up, though, to the NW, where very quickly I could tell it was going to be one of the Those puzzle—a good old-fashioned crocodile-wrestling puzzle. I'm still not sure what 1D: Key that oxymoronic at school? is even supposed to mean. Is it F SHARP because if you get an "F" in school you're not "SHARP"? But ... what? The whole "at school" part feels really forced, like ... you've taken a music clue and shoved it into a non-musical context just so you can make your oxymoron point. Trying too hard (TTH™), I think. But I generally liked that corner once it came together, especially FACE PLANT (1A: Result of a bad trip), which I wanted to be DRUG something something. I've never heard of AMENHOTEP (19A: Royal name in ancient Egypt). IMHOTEP, yes. AMEN-, no. So again, names make things hard. My opening gambit looked super weird:

[auspicious beginnings!]

You'd think that if I could go traipsing across the grid effortlessly like that, I'd be well on my way to success. But not so much. AMENHOTEP, the awkward CAGE IN, and the (for me) elusive TREPAN made that NW truly Saturdayish. NE corner was more like a Wednesday for me (back on familiar name-ground with LL Cool J and "HEY LOVER"), and once I worked the puzzle down to KAREN and LAURYN (the latter of which was a pure gimme), and *especially* once I dropped KNAVERY off just the "K" (39D: Acts of a scalawag), I was sure I had this. But first there was the SLAPJACK / JOCKO thing ... never heard of that game (I'll be saying this again soon...), and didn't know chimps were "common"ly named anything except maybe ENOS or BONZO. I wasn't at all sure that the "J" in that crossing was right, but it felt rightest of all the options, so ... onward. Or not. Couldn't round the corner. 48A: Game also called Five in a Row sounded a lot like GO (or maybe PENTE, which was a variation I feel existed when I was growing up? YES!). GOBANG can go to hell. No hope in hell, and considering it was crossing the equally hope-in-hell-less MAGNETOS (!?!), I was well and truly screwed. Just. Stuck. Oh, and had GONG for GANG (41A: Ring). And DYSPEPTIC for DYSPEPSIA (61A: Upset). Full-on disaster. Looked like this:

Weirdly, once I came to terms with EROSIONAL's being an actual word (ugh), I saw ANGELA (Merkel) immediately, and (go) bang! that corner snapped into place quickly. AQABA got me the very terrible name partial JOHN Q (29D: Public figure?)—putting that junk in a "?" clue is just sadism—and then I changed Dick LUGAR's name from the gun spelling to the actual spelling and done. At least a third of my total time was spent just staring and poking at the SE. Enjoyed the challenge. Can't say the grid was great, but it wasn't bad. And after a string of overly easy themelesses, I'm just grateful for the workout.

Two items you might find interesting:

1. This short (6:41) podcast put together by Tufts University student Julia Press, called "The Future of Crosswords." It contains interviews with me, 6-time ACPT champion Dan Feyer, and several other constructors and solvers. I was really impressed with how it came out. So was Oliver Roeder, who (segue!) wrote...

2. This article, a follow-up to his piece about Timothy Parker's crossword puzzle plagiarism a couple months back. Looks like one of the syndicators of Parker's puzzles, Universal Uclick, has handed down its punishment, and it is *severe*! Just kidding, it's a tiny wrist-slap and he'll be back at work very soon. Read about this pathetic response to serial fraud here.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Sonnet-ending unit / FRI 4-29-16 / Slangy true no / Questel who voiced Olive Oyl / Onetime motel come-on / Old radio dummy / Result of holding hooking / Shot from behind arc informally

Friday, April 29, 2016

Constructor: Andrew Kingsley

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none 

Word of the Day: MAE Questel (6D: Questel who voiced Olive Oyl) —
Mae Questel (pronounced ques-TELL; September 13, 1908 – January 4, 1998) was an American actress and vocal artist best known for providing the voices for the animated characters Betty Boop and Olive Oyl. She began in vaudeville, and played occasional small roles in films and television later in her career, most notably the role of Aunt Bethany in 1989's National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. (wikipedia)
• • •

Super easy, a little rough around the edges, but mostly entertaining. Just when it seemed in danger of sinking into tiresome territory, it would zag back to something unexpected or modern, fresh or lively. A real yo-yo rollercoaster elevator, this one. One minute I'm down with EDIE and ACADIA, then up with VALUE MENU and ICY STARES, then down with oldey-timey MAE and SNERD, then up with GOOD TIME SLAM POETRY. Ugsome ARME and ETERNE get made up for with VIRUS SCAN and "THE RAVEN" (58A: 72 of its 108 lines end in "-ore" sounds). Less than great fill like SUP and TREY at least get nice modern clues. Ultimately, I'm FOR this one—but what is with the easiness. The EASE! I broke 5 minutes last week, and I nearly broke it again this week, despite what felt like a very slow start in the NW (FOUR A.M. really loused me up at 1A: Graveyard hour), and despite not really having my speed-solving hat on. Longer answers like JET BLACK, ICY STARES, and LATIN LOVER came together with just one or two letters in place. I got FINLAND off just the "F" (40D: First country in the world with universal suffrage (1906)). I know I'm asking for trouble when I say this, but More Teeth, please. I need late-week puzzles to put up something of a fight.

OMSK OREL and OREM are all located in the same room in my brain, and I couldn't figure out which one I needed for a while today at 30A: City on the Oka River. OREM is in Utah, so I mostly ruled that out (though I wouldn't have been stunned if it had turned out that Utah had an Oka River). OMSK was contradicted by crosses, so ... OREL. I thought COMER was COMET (13D: Star on the horizon?). I imagined a scenario like this—Person 1: "Is that a star on the horizon?" Person 2: "No, it's a COMET." End scene. Cool that POETRY intersects "THE RAVEN" (*and* contains the letter string "POE"). The toughest clue to parse was 48A: Answering to (UNDER). I'm still not sure I can find a good example of how those can substitute for one another, but I assume ... oh, no, wait, I just got it. Of course. You answer to your boss. You're UNDER your boss. Figuratively. Probably just figuratively. I was thinking it had something to do with going UNDER a different name, answering to a different name. But no, that's absurd. The boss thing is right. LMAO. Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Just remembered that my friend Laura wrote me earlier in the week telling me that this Friday's puzzle was going to be a debut by one of her students at Dartmouth. She was like "be kind" and I was like "You're Not The Boss Of Me!" So happy that I totally forgot about that exchange until just this second, as it had no bearing on the write-up whatsoever. Also happy that this crossword debut is so promising.

P.P.S. One of my readers (Amy Gaidis) just reminded me of something that I really really should've remembered (since I'm married to a Kiwi—and one with a Ph.D. in women's history no less). Per wikipedia: "In 1893 New Zealand became the first nation in the world (bar the short-lived 18th century Corsican Republic) to grant universal, male and female adult suffrage." So ... I don't know how that FINLAND clue (40D: First country in the world with universal suffrage (1906)) isn't wrong.

P.P.P.S. Now another reader tells me that New Zealand was not yet a "country" in 1893. It did not become a "country" (actually, a "dominion"), as opposed to a colony, until 1907. This seems phenomenally nitpicky if it's the alleged factual basis for claiming that FINLAND was first. Hey, wait ... FINLAND doesn't even become independent until 1917 (!?!?). So ... I'm sticking by "This Clue Is Wrong." Point, NZ.

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